Thursday, November 18, 2010

H-1B visa - What you must know?

H-1B visa


What you must know?


H-1B visa programme turns 20 this month. The much-hated as well as much-loved visa programme turns 20 amidst the hullabaloo over US government's plan to hike the visa fee and cut tax breaks for companies outsourcing jobs.

The economic turmoil in the past one-and-a-half year and spiraling joblessness in US has made H-1B visas a hotly debated issue in the US. The year  2010 also saw various attempts to restrict the number and use of H-1B visas through legislation. However, if there are detractors, there are promoters too. IT giants like Microsoft, Google and Intel continue to fastidiously support H-1B visa programme.

Here's a ready reckoner on the H-1B that answers everything you would need to know about the visa: total quota available, eligibility, how to apply and much more...


How much is the H-1B quota?


The current annual cap on the H-1B is 65,000 mandated by the Congress. Every year on October 1, USCIS sets aside certain number of H-1B visas for the coming 12 months.

This means from October 1, 2009 to September 30, 2010 the quota for H-1B is 65,000. However, for US master degree holders or higher, there is a separate quota of 20,000, taking the total H-1B quota to 85,000.


Qualification required?


There are certain qualification requirements for applying for H-1B visa. The person applying for H-1B visa must possess a degree equivalent to US bachelor's degree. A person may also qualify for an H-1B visa through a combination of education or specialised training. For example three years of specialised experience is considered equal to one year of college education.

An applicant can also have a US bachelor's or a higher degree from an accredited university. H-1B occupations include architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, biotechnology, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology and arts.


How to apply?


To apply for H-1B visa, one requires a sponsoring US employer. The H-1B Visa is applied only by employer on behalf of an employee.

The employer needs to file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the US Department of Labor (DOL). This application must state the position and salary while hiring a foreign worker. Other details related to wage, working conditions, labor conditions needs to be stated.

Once the application gets approved, the employer needs to submit an I-129 Petition for non-immigrant worker, along with related forms and supporting documents to USCIS.

These forms primarily justify that job for which the foreign worker is hired is a "specialty occupation" and requires a highly specialised knowledge. This is as H-1B visa programme is aimed to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise in a specialised field.


What is the duration of H-1B visa?


H-1B visas are valid for a fixed period of 3 years and may be extended to 6 years under certain circumstances. After 6 years, the visa holder must leave the country and spend one year outside the US. After a year, the person can return with a fresh H-1B visa.

However, many H-1B employees during there 6-year stay seek to attain permanent residence status (Green Card).


What if H-1B worker is fired?


Once an H-1B visa holder is fired or laid off or the position terminated, his/her H-1B status ends there and then. This means that the employee must leave the US or obtain any other status to stay within the country.

In many cases for a change of status the person can apply for the B-2 Tourist Visa. This will let the worker to remain in status in the US as a visitor.

In case the job is terminated before the approved stay, the employer of the H-1B visa holder is responsible for paying for the worker's return transportation to his/her foreign residence.


Can H-1B visa holders' spouses work?


H-1B visa holders can bring their immediate family members (spouse and children under 21) to US under the H4 Visa category as dependents.

However, H-1B visa holders' spouse coming on H-4 (dependent visa) cannot work in the country. An H4 Visa holder can remain in US as long as the H-1B visa holder's status remains legal. An H4 visa holder, however, can attend school, obtain a driver's license and open a bank account.


H-1B tax


H-1B visa holders are taxed as 'resident aliens', which means that they are taxed on income both from inside, and outside the US. H-1B employees categorised as 'non resident aliens' are taxed on income from the US only.


Can another company hire an H-1B visa holder?


Yes, this is possible. However, the company wanting to hire an H-1B visa holder needs to file a petition with the USCIS to transfer the H-1B visa to their company.